FAQ: What’s the difference between PCR and Rapid COVID test?

what's the difference between pcr and rapid covid test

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What’s the difference between PCR and Rapid COVID tests? Your questions answered

PCR and Rapid COVID-19 tests – what’s the difference?

The academic year is right around the corner, and GoToKnow wants to empower you with the tools and knowledge you need to keep the community healthy and safe. With so many things to look forward to, like sitting next to peers during in-person learning, connecting with teachers face-to-face, or having cafe meet-ups with a study group, knowing the status of your health is more important than ever. By using accurate tests, your students, staff, and faculty can know within minutes if they’re carrying the virus that causes COVID-19.

There are generally two types of tests to determine if someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2— PCR and antigen (or rapid) tests. What are the main differences between the two? We’ve got the answers you need to help make an informed and educated decision for your overall well-being.

So, what exactly is a PCR test?

A PCR test (polymerase chain reaction) determines whether the virus is present by looking for the genetic material of the virus in the subject. Generally, a sample is extracted by use of a deep nasal swab (and sometimes saliva) and is sent off to a lab for processing. This form of testing is highly sensitive and highly accurate, making it the “gold standard” for diagnosing COVID. A 2021 study found PCR tests correctly diagnosed COVID-19 in 97.2 percent of cases.

GoToKnow PCR testing is available for you when you want to feel extremely confident in your results. These types of tests require specialized laboratory equipment and can take 1-3 days to process. So, if you know you have an upcoming sporting event or conference, a PCR test is a great option to use.

What is an antigen or “rapid” test?

Antigen tests help quickly diagnose COVID-19 by detecting specific proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antigens cause the body to produce an immune response and trigger the generation of antibodies. Taking a nasal swab and performing a rapid antigen test can accurately detect the active presence of the virus in the body. These types of tests don’t require any type of special training to perform and provide results rapidly —usually within minutes. This is a great option when it comes to making last-minute plans for social outings and school events. Planning on going to an opening game? Feeling unsure about attending a large lecture? These types of tests can help you feel confident in your decision.

The GoToKnow COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test provides simple and easy-to-follow instructions to provide you with your test results within 15 minutes. Each kit comes with two tests, allowing you to test frequently, identify cases of COVID-19, and help reduce the spread of infection. These antigen rapid tests are convenient, affordable and it really doesn’t get more convenient than that!

How accurate are antigen or “rapid, at-home” tests compared to PCR tests?

In a 2021 cohort study by JAMA Network, researchers compared the accuracy of home antigen tests compared to PCR lab tests for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was shown that when taken 0 to 12 days after the onset of symptoms, antigen tests accurately identified 78.9 percent of people who had the virus and identified 97.1 percent of people who did not have the virus.

As far as the GoToKnow COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test goes, a clinical study compared these tests to an FDA-authorized molecular (PCR) SARS-CoV-2 test and found that the GoToKnow test correctly identified 94.3% of positive specimens and 98.1% of negative specimens.

What’s the best way to use at-home antigen tests?

The best way to use at-home antigen tests is to test immediately after possible exposure or if you’re showing symptoms–and to test again, even if you received a negative result. Serial testing, taking another test 1-2 days after your first result, may be a helpful strategy to improve the accuracy of those results. While waiting, be sure to take proper safety precautions and stay home to prevent the spread of infection until you’ve confirmed your health with the additional test.

By testing frequently and at the onset of symptoms, GoToKnow’s rapid, at-home antigen tests can quickly and correctly identify the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the body. Regardless of vaccination status, our tests are an easy and simple way to take charge of your health. Since you’ll receive GoToKnow’s antigen test results within minutes, these tests are ideal for students, staff, and faculty that want to ensure their health and safety before attending in-person learning, participating in sports, or simply connecting with one another face-to-face.

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